Friday, August 10, 2012

die Sehnsucht

-- In books people make declarations of love and hate, they express their innermost feelings in fine phrases; but in life there are no significant speeches. What can be spoken is regulated by what can be done: if it 'isn't done', it isn't said.

-- The presence of a person is so complete, his absence so final; there seemed to be nothing between the two extremes.

-- If I love you, what business is it of yours?

-- Or, Cocteau's endearing version of Goethe's phrase, "I love you: is that any business of yours?"

-- And again and again I have to remind myself that the whole art of life is to lean on people, to involve oneself with them quite fearlessly and yet -- when the props are kicked away -- remain leaning, as it were, on empty air. Like levitation.

-- My darling. . . . How long is a day in the dark? Or a week? . . . We die, we die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have entered and swum up like rivers. Fears we've hidden in -- like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. We're the real countries. Not the boundaries drawn on maps, with the names of powerful men. I know you'll come and carry me out into the palace of winds. That's what I've always wanted -- to walk in such a place with you. With friends on Earth, without maps. 

Image: Chagall's Song of Solomon

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Reading List: July

1. A Medicine for Melancholy -- Ray Bradbury
2. The Master and Margarita -- Mikhail Bulgakov
3. Metamorphosis -- Franz Kafka

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Star Gazing

One of the many regrets that have gnawed my heart since I was very young, was the fact that I couldn't name the stars in the sky. Growing up in India in the nineties ensured that one would live through regular power-cuts every evening. In that little town of North Bengal, every time we would have a load-shedding, I would carry a shotoronchi that was inevitably too big for me, and accompany my grandmothers to the terrace. Maa would follow, and if Baba was home from the office, he would come too. And then for nearly an hour or more, I would sit among the elders and listen to their gossip. When the conversation got too difficult to follow, I would lie down and gaze up at the sky. It was then, since I was probably three years old and learning the numbers, that I began counting the stars. My thamma had laughed once when she noticed what I was doing, and said that one could never count the stars. They would get mixed up in the head, and one would inevitably lose count. I persisted, however, with a nonchalance, believing that this was one action from which I had nothing to lose. Sometimes I would arrange them in my heads, making the stars fall into a pattern. However, the pattern would get muddled up after sometime. Nevertheless, I never gave up in frustration.

My relatives from Calcutta would often tell me about long nights of load-shedding during the summers, when everyone would go to the terrace. Sometimes, they carried camp-cots and slept under the stars. This immensely romantic image of sleeping unbridled under the stars appealed to me starkly with the pinning of forbidden pleasure -- Maa would never allow me to spend the whole night sleeping in a camp-cot on the terrace, under the stars. Hence I tried to squeeze the longing into the sixty minutes of lying on the shotoronchi staring at the stars and listening to the stories of thamma and didima. Huck and Jim's adventures, and Tom, Sid and Huck's adventures before that in the island, which had been my constant companion pre-adolescence, had made me pine for that freedom of spending the night, looking up at the sky and counting the stars.

The German word for 'sky' is Himmel. Phonetically close to 'heaven', this word, for me, has represented immense possibilities. In what would be my last German class for over a month, we were reading Brecht's Das Leben des Galilei. The third scene of the first act begins with,

Sechzehnhundertzehn, zehnter Januar:
Galileo Galilei sah, dass kein Himmel war.

kein Himmel? No heavens? I read on, intrigued. Galileo and Sagredo, wearing thick cloaks, on the 16th of January, looked at the sky through the telescope. The first thought that struck my mind was, how cold it must have been! When I went to Padua last autumn, it was full moon (kojagori purnima, back home). The moon looked like a golden plate which one could touch if one only strected the hand. I remembered Jibanananda, ironically noting that the jholshano ruti avatar of the full moon held true only in the west. Perhaps in that January night nearly four hundred years ago, Galileo and Sagredo too unravelled such wonderful mysteries in the sky.

SAGREDO. Aber das widerspricht aller Astronomie von zwei Jahrtausend.

GALILEI. So ist es. Was du siehst, hat noch kein Mensch gesehen, ausser mir. Du bist der zweite.

GALILEI. So wie der Mond leuchtet. Weil die beiden Sterne angeleuchtet sind von der Sonne, darum leuchten sie. Was der Mond uns ist, das sind wir dem Mond. Und er sieht uns einmal als Sichel, einmal als Halbkreis, einmal voll und einmal nicht.

SAGREDO. So waere kein Unterschied zwischen Mond und Erde?

GALILEI. Offenbar nicht.

SAGREDO. Vor noch nicht zehn Jahren ist ein Mensch In Rom verbrannt worden. Er hiess Giordano Bruno und hatte eben das behauptet.

GALILEI. Gewiss. Und wir sehen es. Lass dein Auge am Rohr, Sagredo. Was du siehst, ist, dass es keinen Unterschied zwischen Himmel und Erde gibt. Heute ist der 10. Januar 1610. Die Menschheit traegt in ihr Journal ein: Himmel abgeschafft.

. . .

GALILEI: Ich werde dir jetzt einen der Milchweiss glaenzenden Nebel der Milchstrasse vorfuehren. Sage mir, aus was es besteht!

SAGREDO. Das sind Sterne, unzaehlige.

GALILEI. Allein im Sternbild des Orion sind es 500 Fixsterne. Das sind die vielen Welten, die zahllosen anderen, die entfernteren Gestirne, von denen der Verbrannte gesprochen hat. Er hat sie nicht gesehen, er hat sie erwartet! . . . Sagredo, ich frage mich. Seit vorgestern frage ich mich. Da ist der Jupiter. Er stellt ihn ein. Da sind naehmlich vier, klienere Sterne nahe bei ihm, die man durch das Rohr sieht. Ich sah sie am Montag, nahm aber nicht besondere Notiz von ihrer Position. Gestern sah ich wieder nach. Ich haette schwoeren koennen, alle vier hatten ihre Position geaendert. Ich merkte sie mir an. Sie stehen wieder anders. Was ist das? Ich sah doch vier. [In Bewegung] Sieh du durch!

SAGREDO. Ich sehe drei.

GALILEI. Wo ist das vierte? Da sind die Tabellen. Wir muessten ausrechnen, was fuer Bewegungen sie gemacht haben koennen.

. . .

SAGREDO. Hast du allen Verstand verloren? Weisst du wirklich nicht mehr, in was fuer eine Sache du kommst, wenn das Wahr ist, was du da siehst? Und du es auf allen Maerkten herumschreist: dass die Erde einStern ist und nicht der Mittelpunkt des Universums.

GALILEI. Ja, und dass nicht das ganze riesige Weltall mit allen Gestirnen sich um unsere winzige Erde dreht, wie jeder sich denken konnte!

SAGREDO. Dass da also nur Gestirne sind! -- Und wo ist dann Gott?

GALILEI. Was meinst du damit?

SAGREDO. Gott! Wo ist Gott?

GALILEI [zornig]. Dort nicht! So wenig wie er hier auf der Erde zu finden ist, wenn dort Wesen sind und ihn hier suchen sollten!

SAGREDO. Und wo ist also Gott?

GALILEI. Bin ich Theologe? Ich bin Mathematiker.

SAGREDO. Vor allem bist du ein Mensch. Und ich frage dich, wo ist Gott in deinem Weltsystem? 

GALILEI. In uns oder nirgends.

I have often spoken about the wonderful fiery red Calcutta sky. I have spent nights staring up at the stars, sometimes burning my nightdress from the ash of the cigarette I was smoking, being so lost in looking up at the tiny dots while my neighbour's radio wafted abhi na jao chor kar, ke dil abhi bhara nahi in soft tones. The Delhi skyline is ugly. Here, the nightsky is red too, but it is artificial, and like most of the things in this city, full of pomp, and only for show.

After all,

Partir, c'est mournir un peu.
Scheiden tut weh.
Every farewell is a little death.